Matt Chandler Is Latest Fall From Grace in American Evangelicalism

The lead pastor of an evangelical megachurch near Dallas announced on Sunday that he would be taking a leave of absence because of an inappropriate online relationship he had with a woman who wasn't his wife.

Matt Chandler told the Village Church congregation on Sunday that the relationship was not romantic or sexual but that elders deemed the frequency and familiarity of the direct messages he exchanged with the woman on Instagram "unguarded and unwise."

Chandler's abrupt departure marks the latest fall from grace for an American evangelical leader, as recent years have seen a number of men removed from church leadership or disgraced by revelations they behaved inappropriately or engaged in sexual misconduct or abuse.

Revelations of men abusing positions of power continue to frustrate and disappoint many in the pews.

Below, Newsweek rounds up some notable cases.

A pastor and congregation
Stock image shows a pastor standing behind a pulpit. Matt Chandler, the lead pastor of the Village Church, announced he was taking a leave of absence because of an inappropriate relationship he had. iStock

Matt Chandler

In tearful remarks, Chandler said on Sunday a woman had approached him in the church foyer a few months ago and confronted him about his messages to one of her friends.

Chandler said he found the encounter "disorienting" and informed other church elders.

They commissioned an independent law firm to review his messaging history across his social media accounts, email and cellphone, said a statement shared on the church's website.

Church elders decided that Chandler's actions violated the church's social media policy and biblical standards of being "above reproach." They did not disqualify him from leadership, but decided he should take a "disciplinary and developmental" leave of absence.

The church did not provide details of when Chandler may return, but he began his remarks on Sunday by saying he intended on being the church's pastor for the next 20 years.

Bill Hybels

Hybels, the founder of the Chicago-area Willow Creek Community Church, stepped down in 2018 following allegations of misconduct.

It came after The Chicago Tribune published allegations that he touched and made lewd comments to female congregants.

Hybels initially dismissed the allegations as "flat-out lies." He later said that the accusations were misleading (and "some entirely false") but that he regretted putting himself in "situations that would have been far wiser to avoid."

An independent group of Christian leaders advising the church later concluded that the allegations of "sexually inappropriate words and actions" by Hybels were credible.

Ravi Zacharias

The global Christian organization founded by Zacharias was roiled after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced after his death.

Zacharias allegedly harassed, inappropriately touched and exposed himself to massage therapists working at day spas he co-owned in an Atlanta suburb over a period of five years, evangelical publication Christianity Today reported in September 2020. He died of cancer in May that year, and then-Vice President Mike Pence spoke at his memorial service.

Five therapists said Zacharias touched them inappropriately and one said she was raped, according to a report from a law firm hired by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. The report said investigators searching Zacharias' devices found more than 200 photographs of younger women, include nude pictures of a salon employee in Malaysia.

In a statement at the time, the organization's board of directors expressed regret "that we allowed our misplaced trust in Ravi to result in him having less oversight and accountability than would have been wise and loving."

Carl Lentz

Lentz was fired from Hillsong East Coast, a popular megachurch whose congregants include Justin and Hailey Bieber, in 2020.

In an Instagram post announcing his departure, Lentz said it was because he was "unfaithful in my marriage."

"When you accept the calling of being a pastor, you must live in such a way that it honors the mandate. That it honors the church, and that it honors God," he wrote.

"When that does not happen, a change needs to be made and has been made in this case to ensure that standard is upheld."

Update 9/1/22, 4:36 a.m. ET: The stock image used to illustrate this article has been changed.